Between social media ‘time spent’ popups, articles flooding the news, and the introduction of screentime monitoring applications as standard across many phones, it’s hard to go a day without encountering something or someone that has an opinion on how long we’re spending on our phones.
It’s easy to feel judged for how we use our phones – sometimes, with good reason. One study unveiled millennials check their phones up to 150 times each day. Other generations aren’t close to those numbers, but are still pretty high at an estimated 85 times each day.
If you’re worried about your phone usage, it could be time to consider taking a break. Whether that’s a day away from your phone, or setting aside an hour or two each day that can be phone-free; it’s worth discovering what works best for you.
We share some simple ways you can set yourself up for success and claim back the hours lost to scrolling.
Six simple ways to take a break from your phone
1. Consider why – before getting started, take the chance to stop and think about what has stopped you from taking a break from your phone in the past. Does it make you feel worried or anxious to be away from your phone? Or do you check it more out of habit? Jot down everything that comes to mind (a simple spider diagram can be a big help). If going cold-turkey for a whole day without your phone seems too daunting, start by going phone-free for a morning, or a couple of hours in the evening.
2. Pick your time carefully – consider when you want to try going phone-free. If you’re feeling a little apprehensive, try a non-working day. This can stop you from using the excuse that work may need you (if you’re working from home or are frequently away from your desk for meetings). Letting people know ahead of time if you are planning to be offline for the day can be a simple way to put your mind at rest, encouraging you not to check in with social media and apps frequently ‘just in case’.
3. Make it a group activity – encourage friends, family, or colleagues to do the same. If you are taking a break from your phone at the same time as a loved one, you can both benefit from a full day of quality time to spend together, connecting without the distractions your phone can provide. Phone-free time can be a great opportunity during work hours to spend time on idea generation (as well as making sure everyone is 100% focused on any meetings at hand).
4. Slow and steady – jumping in head-first can be tempting, but it can also be daunting. If going fully phone-free for a day feels like too much, try setting yourself smaller goals to help ease you into things and build a healthy balance. For example, try setting aside a day where you’ll only use your phone for messages, not social media; or allow yourself to check your phone at set points across the say, instead of having it face-up and in your line of sight at all times.
5. Make a phone-free zone – if using your phone before bed is one of your weaknesses, try moving your phone charger away from your bedroom (or if browsing whilst relaxing on the soft is getting to be a distraction, try leaving your phone charging in the kitchen) so you aren’t tempted. Sure, a lot of us like to use our phones as alarm clocks, but if there’s a benefit to moving your phone away from the bedroom, it’s totally worth the investment in a traditional alarm clock.
6. Track how it goes – if you’re trying out different ways to cut down on your screentime, remember to note down how you are feeling as the set time goes. Jot things down (the old fashioned way – no taking notes on your phone!) to see how the break made you feel. Did anything surprise you? Were you more or less anxious than you expected? Did you feel any more present or connected than you thought you would?
Is taking a break from your phone always the answer?
For some of us, taking a step back, putting down our phones and taking a break can be a positive, empowering experience. With the introduction of screentime features that let us know just how long we spend scrolling through Instagram, browsing Facebook, and losing ourselves on YouTube, it’s hard to deny that we can spend a lot of time online.
However, it’s good to remember: it’s OK to not take a break from your phone. While cutting down on screen time can be good for a lot of us, but it isn’t for everyone (and that’s OK). Although we are pretty good at demonising social media and tech as a whole, it’s worth remembering that they can provide vital connections and significant benefits for different people.
We aren’t all the same; where some of us may be addicted to our phones, others may use them as a lifeline to connect with others, escape, or interact in ways that may otherwise be impossible due to ill mental or physical health.
Using our phones, tablets and other devices can have some great benefits, including helping us to:
1. Create connections – smart devices can provide an easier way for people who experience social anxiety, are shy, or may have communication difficulties to find and connect with other people. Phones, social media and online forums can take away the pressure away that can come from face-to-face interactions, whilst providing the opportunity to speak with others who have similar life experiences that we otherwise may not have met.
2. Foster a sense of community – for those experiencing ill mental health, many report feeling more able to connect with and open up to others online, gaining a sense of comfort and guidance from digital mental health communities.
Online communications can also help many people to reconnect with old friends or colleagues who they may not otherwise interact with, whilst helping them to stay up-to-date with friends and family who live further away or having conflicting schedules.
3. Be empowered – online communities can act as a tool and space for greater feelings of personal empowerment. Getting actively involved in online communities can not only help develop a network of friends, but can help individuals to feel more engaged and involved within the hobbies they love.
From discussing ideas that excite them to cultivating interests, shaping their identity, and discovering who they really are, social media and digital communities can help people to build a network of people outside of their immediate geographical community, exposing them to different perspectives, ideas, and views they may not otherwise encounter.
4. Feel inspired – social media can not only help us to feel more engaged, but can allow us to discover new causes we can become passionate about. From volunteer opportunities and the work different charities are doing, to world news and the latest events; not all creativity and compassion stem from the other side of a screen, but the spark of inspiration and interest can still come from there.
We’re not saying it’s a good idea to stay plugged in 24/7, but the next time you feel like you’re being judged for the time you spend online (or the next time you feel like judging someone else on the tube for not glancing up from their phone), try to remember: each of us has different needs. Who are we to judge what works for us, or for others?